Mad Men Review: Back for a cracking new series

February 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

4MAD MEN: BBC4, Tuesday 10th February, 10:00pm, Alert me

Battlestar Galactica. The West Wing. Lolcatz.

For all my self-assured pop-culture know-how, sometimes, just sometimes, I find myself arriving to the party a little later than everyone else.

Mad Men is one of those shows that I’d seen winning numerous Emmys, Golden Globes and critical adulation but for some reason decided to nonchalantly shun in favour of Hollyoaks, Dancing on Ice and Paris Hilton’s BBF.

Back for a new series, as the stylised, Hitchcockian titles gave way to the self-referentially clever, opening bars of Let’s Twist Again and polished panning shots of glamorous 50s sirens, I had already twisted my ankle in an (admittedly feeble) attempt to kick myself.

For those similarly not in the know, Mad Men is set at the turn of the 50s/60s and centers on the daily travails of those working at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency on New York’s Madison Avenue. While it’s essentially an ensemble cast, the show’s true protagonist is Don Draper – the chisel-jawed, perfectly coiffed executive of the company who, at the beginning of this second series at least, offers up insightful, almost virtuous diatribes on a business and life that are in the throes of social flux.

As this season opens, the ad agency’s men are under threat of being replaced by the ever-prevalent threat of the younger man, while the women are…. well, this is the 50s/60s, so the women are mainly relegated to menial office roles and flirtatious dalliances with extra-martial affairs.

The show has deservedly won numerous awards for its historical authenticity and visual style, and it’s obvious to see why. The entire thing seems to have gone through a HBO filter that lends it an effortlessly Hollywood sheen, and the attention to period detail is bewitching. This is a world where the arrival of a car-sized photocopier garners as much frenzied attention as The Beatles, where everybody smokes 17 cigarettes a minute and the majority of the high-flyers speak in such graceful, silver-tongues that today’s ‘skanky craggy hooker’ becomes yesterday’s ‘party girl’.

But without a good story, it might as well be a visual, retrospective art installation. Mad Men subtly digs its hooks in by positioning all these characters at the precipice of change. Whether it’s personally or historically, you get the nagging feeling that the black housemaid, the neglected wife, the chauvinist frat-buddies and the downtrodden career woman are all teetering on the edge of that social break-through, and I for one, want to be watching when it does.

By Matt Risley